By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
St. Bonaventure’s reward for sweeping Niagara in Tuesday’s doubleheader? An eight-game road trip.
The stretch contains a doubleheader Thursday afternoon at Marist, a three-game series in Rhode Island over the weekend, a game at Youngstown State on Tuesday and a doubleheader at Canisius on Wednesday.
The Bonnies, who are currently eighth in the Atlantic 10 standings with a 5-10 conference record (11-19 overall), are used to grueling road trips. They have played 11 away games and 12 neutral-site games this season, compared to just seven home games. By the end of the regular season, a staggering 76 percent of their games will have been played away from the friendly confines of St. Bonaventure University.
Logging bus miles comes with the territory when you play softball in Western New York.
“We are used to being on the road because our schedule is very demanding with the Western New York weather,” said junior shortstop Emily McDonough. “We try to prepare ourselves the same way for every game. We treat every game the same.”
Bona can prepare the same way, but away games present a clear challenge. The team has gone 2-9 in road games, 4-8 at neutral sites. These are improvements over last season, when they went 0-15 in road games and 3-11 neutrally, but there is still progress to be made.
“It’s always a different atmosphere than at Bona’s,” said sophomore outfielder Kelly Farrell. “But it’s nice to come in and try to upset a team at home.
“We just talk with each other and feed off each other’s energy the whole time to try and stay focused.”
The camaraderie the Bonnies have built while traveling together is something they try to use to their advantage. Trips to Hawaii and Myrtle Beach, S.C. strengthened the bonds and helped the ladies get on the same page as they navigate enemy territory.
“It’s a team sport, and if you’re unable to communicate or depend on your teammates you won’t do very well,” said Farrell. “It’s always good to know that someone has your back and if you make a mistake someone will pick you up. Plus it makes it fun to be able to play with all your friends.”
Playing in different cities and venues can be fun, but the demands of being a student-athlete don’t disappear when the team leaves campus; they intensify. Players are required to notify their professors when they are going to miss class and make up the work they missed. Failure to complete assignments may result in ineligibility.
Thirteen softball players made the most recent Atlantic 10 Commissioner’s Honor Roll list, tied with women’s swimming for the most on an SBU team. To make the list, student-athletes must carry a grade-point average of 3.5 or higher.
Maintaining high grades can be challenging when you play 76 percent of your games away from campus. McDonough and Farrell credit good planning and communication for helping them get the job done.
“It’s tough but I usually try to get most of my work done before we leave school because it is personally difficult for me to study and write papers on the bus and in hotels,” said McDonough. “We always try to stay one step ahead with assignments and are constantly in contact with professors.”
“Our team has always had a high GPA so it puts a little bit of pressure on us, but it’s good pressure and motivates us,” said Farrell.
“It gets hard with all the traveling, but if you plan ahead of time you can get it done and coordinate with professors. Most are very flexible when we’re on the road. It takes a lot of time management and planning ahead.”
This time of year, the pressure of classes overlaps with the pressure of the looming Atlantic 10 Tournament. SBU has six conference games remaining and must win all six if they hope to be one of the six teams that make the tourney. Rhode Island is in the basement at 0-16 in the A-10, while St. Joe’s is one game ahead of Bonaventure at 6-8. A perfect end to the conference slate is certainly possible.
“Our chances are good,” said McDonough. “I’d say the biggest thing we need to focus on in these upcoming games is hitting and scoring runs because when our offense produces, the rest always follows.”
She’s certainly right about that. The Bonnies are 9-2 in games where they score five runs or more, and they have only allowed three runs a game over those 11 contests. When they haven’t been able to scrape across five runs, they have gone 2-17 and allowed slightly less than six runs a contest. When the bats are hot, as they were in the first two games against George Mason a couple weekends ago and against Niagara earlier this week, this is a formidable team. When the bats are cold, things have gone south.
“We really just need to stay focused on the process,” said Farrell. “We still have a chance to make the tournament but it will involve a lot of hard work and wins in these upcoming games we have.
“It’s a tight chance, but we have that chance, so hopefully we will succeed.”